Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Guest Review: Fracture (2007)

By Tennessee Jed

Courtroom drama is well-trodden territory in Hollywood. But there’s always room for something new. Fracture, directed by veteran Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear), offers something new. Indeed, this stylized thriller has crafted a very different approach to the standard “guilty or not” formula as, almost at the outset, we view the commission of the crime itself, an attempted murder with all its particulars, and the would be murderer even willingly and immediately confesses his crime. But all is not as it seems and an apparent “open and shut case” becomes riddled with holes and legal traps, setting up a test of wits between the two main characters. In fact, the movie’s tag line is “I shot my wife. . . Prove it.”

** spoiler alert**

The Plot - Fracture stars Sir Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) as Ted Crawford, the owner of a small aeronautical engineering firm who displays an engineer’s precise intellect, along with the ego of a highly successful businessman. Jennifer Crawford (Embeth Davidtz) is his younger, “trophy” wife. As the film opens, she is seen in romantic interlude with a man. It turns out to be an affair of which Ted has apparently been aware, as he leaves work and spies on them romping in a hotel pool. Later, after she arrives home, he first confronts her, then shoots her point blank in the face. The sound of gunfire alerts the gardeners to potential violence, and police, including a hostage negotiator, are promptly dispatched to the home. We at once recognize the negotiator, Lt. Rob Nunnelly (Billy Burke), as the man in the pool with Jennifer. Ted allows only Nunnelly into the house and only after both agree to discard their pistols. When Ted permits him to view the victim lying in a pool of her own blood, the negotiator is understandably shocked to find it is his lover. Ted taunts Nunnelly who subsequently attacks and subdues him as a SWAT team rushes in.

The case is assigned to D.D.A. Willie Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a rising if arrogant star within the department, who boasts a 97% conviction rate (padded by his propensity to trade off losing cases.) He has just announced his acceptance of a lucrative offer from a highly regarded corporate firm, but agrees to handle what he sees as one last easy win, particularly when Crawford demands to represent himself.

At trial, Willie is ambushed as Nunnelly admits his affair with the victim. When the judge realizes he had attacked Ted at the house, and sat in on his questioning, the confession gets tossed. Combined with the fact Ted’s gun has not been fired (i.e. there is no murder weapon), Willie realizes he has more than he bargained for from an opponent who, though not an attorney, is a cunning, skilled adversary.

Other cast members include veteran David Strathairn (Eight Men Out, Good Night & Good Luck) as D.A. Joe Lobruto, and former Bond girl Rosamund Pike (The World Is Not Enough) as Nikki Gardner, Willie’s future private sector boss and romantic interest. Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption) plays Nikki’s father, respected judge Frank Gardner while Cliff Curtis plays Willie’s friend, lead investigator Detective Flores.

What Works - The acting skills, particularly of the two leads, results in an above average product. Hopkins again plays himself; the elderly, soft spoken, easy to underestimate character from films such as The Edge or World’s Fastest Indian. His skill in this role allows you to not only buy into the character, but also to see the transition from a slightly sympathetic cuckold, to a cunning, mean-spirited, haughty individual the audience wants to see taken down.

I had not been aware of Ryan Gosling prior to this film, although he already had a critically acclaimed performance in Half Nelson under his belt. He was totally engaging in the role of Willie. Even though the character is a bit full of himself, Gosling makes him likable enough that the audience can still easily root for him. It is not without irony that he earlier played a role similar to a young version of Ted Crawford in the film Murder By Numbers. Pike is actually well cast, convincingly portraying a shallow, stereotype (no easy task.)

The director, no stranger to courtroom drama himself, does a nice job of framing and lighting scenes. Although a few “dramatic” camera angles are easily recognized as such, it is not enough to distract. Pacing is more than adequate and one never feels the story line dragging. With a little willing suspension of belief, viewers can still reasonably buy into the story, investing enough in the characters to care about the ultimate outcome of their struggle. Although the theme of two talented adversaries, each flawed and brought down by their own hubris is hardly subtle, it does provide the necessary underpinning to the story.

What Doesn’t Work - As the plot unfolds, there is much that is, at minimum, unlikely. Indeed, Writer Daniel Pyne’s (Pacific Heights, Any Given Sunday) plot stretches the boundaries of plausibility at times. The likelihood of Ted being able to predict Nunnelly’s subsequent actions to the extent he apparently does is pure Hollywood. We are never shown how Ted obtained the hotel room key. The fact Willie immediately beds his prospective boss is almost “Bond like” in its absurdity, ultimately reducing Nikki to a caricature of some evil corporate temptress. Certainly, the secondary message of redemption through the goodness of public service compared to the shallowness of corporate greed is at once as hackneyed as it is obvious. Also, the film resorts to a rather clichéd dramatic device to seal the outcome, but despite these not insignificant flaws, I still found it to be highly entertaining if one takes it at face value for just that purpose.

The Verdict - Finally, while some may claim to see the outcome early on, I must confess I did not. For me, the writer did a convincing job of disguising both his “tells,” and the final resolution. Interestingly, because of the “dueling hubris” angle, the story could actually work with either character the victor, which helps keep the viewer guessing. If one can accept the notion of this movie as simply a good old fashion “will he get away with it” drama that is raised up a notch by seasoned Hollywood professionals, then Fracture is a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Perhaps this review will also provide good opportunity for you to state some of your best and least liked courtroom dramas.

43 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Thanks for another good review. I saw this some years ago and I enjoyed it. I thought it had some believability problems, but the story was entertaining enough that it didn't bother me. And I thought the acting was top notch.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I didn't even really notice or worry about that aspect when I first watched it. The plot moves along so well, and the acting of the two leads is so good, it wasn't until the obligatory "post mortem" dissection that you really see some of the flaws, and they just weren't enough of a problem to spoil it for me.

To tell you the truth, it was Ryan Gosling's performance that really made this film for me. I expected Hopkins to be great, but had never really seen Gosling before. I ended up saying to myself "Who the heck is this kid?" I suppose it actually helps if the actor is unknown to the viewer because it becomes that much easier to slip into the role.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think that's true. I think when you don't know who the actor is and they deliver a great performance, it really helps you get into the character. It's much harder to get into a character when the actor is famous.

I think that's something people need to think about when they think back on older films, that sometimes the actors weren't famous (or infamous) at that point and they came across differently in the role than they do today.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I've become a Gosling fan too. I don't know if this was the first time I saw him or not, but I thought he was very good.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Sorry to threadjack, but...

My next BH article is now scheduled for tomorrow morning. :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

It was interesting to me to find out afterwards that Hoblit and Previously done "Primal Fear" which has some of the same strengths and weaknesses as this film. After I completed my review, I went out onto the net to see what other reviewers had said. Several gave the plot a hard time. The writer, Daniel Pynes had done Pacific Heights and Any Given Sunday, both of which I really enjoyed. Of course there is a difference between the script and the plot, but I had really enjoyed both those films.

I honestly thought this plot was quite good as long as nobody is trying to compare it with, say "Presume Innocence" in terms of realism.

Ed said...

Jed, Nice review! I like Hopkins a lot and try to see all of his films. I saw this when it came to HBO and I really liked it. I didn't see the end coming either and to me, that makes it a good film.

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, Ed. I agree, there is something about Sir Anthony that just fills up the screen. He pretty much dominates the movies he is in, which is why I was all the more impressed how Gosling held his own (cinmatically speaking, of course.)

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - that is great to hear! I'll look forward to seeing it. I just got done posting a link over here on one of the comment threads. It will be interesting to see if anybody checks it out :D

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Presumed Innocent is BY FAR my favorite courtroom drama. there isn't even a close second.

Others that I liked included (believe it or not) My Cousin Vinny, Caine Mutiny and To Kill A Mockingbird.

The one a lot of people like which I can't stand is 12 Angry Men. They should have called that 12 Angry Strawmen because it's such a fake set up and such fake conflict. Clearly a liberal wrote it and they just couldn't grasp that other people might have different views of the world, so they had to create some fake reasons why people would see it "wrong" until the good liberal showed them all the way.

Tennessee Jed said...

I have so many I like, but Presumed Innocence is right there at or near the top. I also, like Paradine Case and To Kill a Mocking Bird with Gregory Peck, Witness For the Prosecution, Breaker Morant (with the great Edward Woodward,) Anatomy of a Murder, The Verdict, and The Accused.

Tennessee Jed said...

Presume Innocent, not Innocence of course; sorry about that

CrispyRice said...

Another one that I've missed somehow! It sounds intriguing, though. I'll check it out!

AndrewPrice said...

Oh yeah, how could I forget Breaker Morant. That's one of my favorite films and the court scenes are just fantastic.

Witness for the Prosecution is excellent too!

thundercatkp said...

I haven't seen Fractured but it sounds interesting. I like The Verdict...we watched this when I was in school. I still want to argue the nurses view point.

Tennessee Jed said...

ThundercatKP - I highly recommend it. It's a great summertime movie. The acting alone is worthwhile, and the beginning of the movie does everything good drama should do to quickly hook you into the story.Pour yourself a glass of wine, (chardonnay and popcorn are a great combo, btw) and get drawn in . . . .

If this thread develops any real spoliers, I'll make absolutely certain to mark then in HUGE CAPITALS :D

Tennessee Jed said...

Yes, Andrew- indeed, how could you? I would have shamelessly provided a link to your excellent review, except, as you know, I can't seem to pull that function off very well.

Tennessee Jed said...

Crispy - Thanks! Somehow I missed your post scrolling up and down. By all means, I think you will enjoy this film, although hopefully I haven't raised expectations to ridiculous levels.

Tennessee Jed said...

Oh, and Crispy, that is exactly what my reviews are usually about; e.g. trying to mention films I think you will enjoy that may not have come to your attention. Let me know what you think of In Bruges and this one after you see them :D

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Here's the link... Breaker Morant

:-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, Andrew - I have to go out for a bit, but will be back around 7:00 p.m. EDT and will answer each and every comment. Hopefully, commenters will carry on for the next 90 minutes.

thundercatkp said...

Tennessee Jed...Fractured is in Netflix queue...Can't wait.

Joel Farnham said...

Jed,

Interesting movie concept.

With all due respect to Andrew, 12 Angry Men, while it showcases a lot of talent, never was about the kid being guilty or innocent. It was about the twelve people thrown into a small room. They weren't allowed out until they all agreed on something. It was misnamed. It should have renamed, how to get 11 people to vote your way. Just stand in the way.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That's one way to look at it. I look at is as pure liberal feelgoodism: "if you just refuse to let the racists and facists and capitalists stand in your way, the people will join you and you can change the world." Blech.

And to clarify, I don't mean the kids' guilt or innocence, he was obviously written to be innocent because leftists don't believe anyone is guilty. I'm talking about the people. The writer created these awful stereotypes and gave them untenable positions. Then we're supposed to watch the "brave" hero as he "somehow breaks down these peoples' prejudices" (which are all strawmen).

It's the intellectual equivalent watching an action hero beat up a bunch of people with no arms and no desire to resist.

DUQ said...

Jed, What else was Gosling in? He sounds familiar, but I can't place him.

Tennessee Jed said...

DuQ - He is probably best known for Blue Valentine, Notebook, and Half-Nelson. His first feature film credit was a small role in Remember the Titans, and apparently he was in a t.v. shows called Young Hercules.

Tennessee Jed said...

Joel - Have you seen Fracture? If so, what did you think? I'm also wondering what are some of your favorites in this genre. I must admit that I always felt 12 Angry Men was actually over-rated. It may just be I was never as much a Henry Fonda fan as I was, oh say Peck or Stewart ;-)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks for the great review Jed!

I'll definitely check this one out when I can.

Lessee, favorite courtroom flicks...My Cousin Vinny tops the list. Superb performances,cleverly written, funny, and it had a remarkable interaction between the incomperable Fred Gwynn and Joe Pesci!

I never get tired of watching that flick.

Just saw Presumed Innocent a few weeks ago and it was rivetting
(not to mention as realistic as it gets, based on what little I know of courtroom procedures)!
I think Andrew mentioned it once in a comment so of course I had to check it out. :^)

Worst courtroom movie? Tango and Cash come to mind, LOL! It's like the director didn't even try.

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of bad courtroom dramas or thrillers.
I get tired of all the old cliches, many of which never happen.
The last minute confession or surprise witness or evidence the defense wasn't told about.
The illegally obtained evidence by the prosecution that's never challenged. The list is virtually endless.

It's as bad as the false cliches about cops or the military.
And yet many directors in hollywood keep using them.
Go figure.

Tennessee Jed said...

Joel - as I re-read your comment, it sounds pretty much like you didn't see Fracture, so I will unreservedly recommend it to you. I am not saying it is an instant classic, but most folks I know have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tennessee Jed said...

ThundercatKP - One of the interesting things I've found about DVD and Blu-Ray is the special features. A lot of times they are kind of boring, but interestingly, for this film they have some great deleted/extended scenes as well as two previous alternative endings.

I found it fascinating to see how they kept changing the ending. It was perhaps a little more realistic original, but much better dramatically the way it was finally shot.

Joel Farnham said...

No Jed, I have not seen it yet, as my wife said, we have it in queue on Netflix. We will see it in a few days. :-)

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: Like Andrew, I've been around the law long enough to know I'm going to have to suspend disbelief in almost any legal drama. Having learned to do that decades ago, I can enjoy the better ones as entertainment rather than as exemplars of what actually goes on in real life legal cases.

This was one of my favorites. I even got over Ryan Gosling looking like he's about fifteen years old. The holes in the narrative were made up for by nearly pitch-perfect acting. I think Billy Burke is one of the most underrated actors in movies and TV today. Sure, he stank in Twlight but who didn't? For a good laugh at wry humor, see him in the mockumentary Dill Scallion.

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, Hawk. You are right, Billy Burke did a very nice understated performance in Fracture. It is just that the film really was a vehicle for the two leads. Yeah, Gosling looked young, but since I didn't know him, actually added to the young hot shot law gun who was just to full of himself by half. I'll check out the mockumentary you mention if I can find it.

I have to be honest, it was with no small bit of trepidation that I reviewed a legal thriller and recommended it with you and Andrew in the audience ;-) I appreciate your taking it easy on me (l.o.l.)

Tennessee Jed said...

Ben - thanks! I believe you will enjoy it. Scott Turow, too me, is the best of the legal thriller writers. They have done his first one as a feature film, and a couple of others as t.v. mini-series. I am hoping they do the sequel which was written a year or so ago, and titled "Innocent." it revisits Rusty Sabitch all these years later and is another great read.

My Cousin Vinny is a hoot. You don't often see legal comedies and this one was extremely well done. cristiog

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Presumed Innocent is probably the most realistic court room drama out there. It gets all the procedures right and even the rulings. It's a very impressive bit of writing.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew: I didn't find it boring, either. In fact, it was very interesting!

On the countless films that get it wrong, whether it's the courtroom or the military I often wonder, don't these films have advisors?

And if they do, what's the problem? Are the advisors ignoranuses or do the directors simply ignore them?

I'm very impressed when a film does accurately portray courtroom procedures or any other profession.

That tells me the director cares about his or her audience (or at least that part of the audience who's profession is being filmed), and a good director can be accurate and still be interesting as we have seen.

When something is so blatantly inaccurate that most people see it, then it distracts from the movie (the bigger the inaccuracies the bigger the distraction).

Directors (and actors and writers) would do well to copy Tom Clancy who actually researches what he's gonna write about so he knows what he's talking about.
He knows RADAR's don't make any noise like SONAR's, unlike several directors who still can't tell the difference.

Obviously, the director of Presumed Innocent did his homework and/or listened to the author of the book and kudos for doing so!

It shows class and professionalism when the director/writer/actors get it right or as right as possible.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, A couple points...

First, I have never understood why they don't try harder to be accurate about things like court room procedures in films? Court is a VERY exciting place with all kinds of twists and turns and unexpected things. So it amazes me when films or books need to fake it. What that tells me is that those guys never practiced.

Scott Turrow who wrote Presumed Innocent really got it all right -- right down to the politics you find in a DA's office around election time.

The book I've written (which I expect someday to be able to share with everyone) is a legal thriller and my goal was to keep everything absolutely true, while still carrying on a pretty fantastic story. Everything that happens court-wise are things that I've seen in court or researched for one reason or another. Nobody acts just for the sake of the plot -- everyone acts like they do in real life.

If you get the chance, read this post I wrote about the rules I used to write it: LINK

Secondly, I know exactly what you mean about doing your research (like Clancy) if you don't have first hand experience. I just finished reading "Around the World in 80 Days" from Jules Verne and I was shocked that he described everywhere they went with the accuracy of someone who was watching the Discovery Channel while writing the book... but he wrote the book 200 years ago! This was impressive. So either he went to all these places (unlikely) or he did some incredible research.

Anyone who writes or make films should take enough pride in their work that they get it right.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks Andrew! I read it and made some comments already.
Great article! :^)

Now I gotta read the comments.

Tennessee Jed said...

Ben and Andrew - sorry I missed the end of the conversation last night. About 10:00 p.m. or so last night we had sever thunderstorms roll through the area. The good news: it helped break the heat which was still in the mid 80's at that time of night and the lawn needed a drink.

The bad news was that it knocked out the power until about 2:45 a.m. this morning and scared the dog so I had to sleep on the couch with her;-)

One interesting thing in common between Presumed Innocent and Fracture - * * * spoiler alert * * * both raise the specter of using "false or tainted evidence" which may happen more than people realize in the real world. I can only laugh when I remember Detective Andy Sipowitcz telling Sharon Lawrence "ipso loqueter this" while grabbing his crotch after she tells him the evidence gets tossed because he spilled tacks under the tires of a mobster's car to insure he would get a flat and have to open the trunk.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I had to shut down for a while yesterday too because of thunderstorms. No biggie as long as everyone is safe!

On the tainted evidence front, there's another aspect that rarely gets covered by Hollywood because it doesn't compute for them -- but a lot of times, the defense is precluded from using very vital evidence by similar rules. It's particularly bad in rape cases where I've seen some amazingly relevant evidence that would have helped the defense kept out.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

No worries, Jed.
Stuff happens. :^)

I agree that false or tainted evidence happens more than people think. So does not seeing the forest for the trees.

Sometimes it looks "obvious" who the perp is and the prosecution and detectives forget the number one rule: follow the evidence!

I don't know how many times I've watched the real life crime shows and it looks like the case is in the bag or a slam dunk, only to find the detective and prosecutor is on the wrong track.

To be fair, I often thought the same things they did based on some of the evidence.
It's easy to think that the adulterous husband killed his wife or the abusive boyfriend killed his girlfriend.

But I learned to look at ALL the evidence before jumping to the obvious conclusion.

Thos has become a cliche in the fictional crime shows.
The first and obvious suspect is NEVER the killer.
The killer (or perp) is always revealed in the last 15 minutes, LOL.

Of course, oftentimes, in the real world, the most obvious suspect IS the killer or bank robber, etc..

But that's no excuse to get lazy and not cover all the bases before reaching a conclusion based on all the evidence.

Tennessee Jed said...

On that tainted, missing, or false evidence front, it is usually associated with the prosecution although in Presumed Innocence, it was actually Rusty Sabitch's friend, the investigator. I can't remember the actor except he is my age, and tragically died too young. Prior to seeing him in Presumed Innocence, he was on L.A. Law for two or three seasons towards the end of it's run.

thundercatkp said...

Tennessee Jed,

I'm not you'll find this this late but you might.

You said "...found it fascinating to see how they kept changing the ending." RE: special features on DVD.

Thing is with Netflix they just send you which ever one they have on hand.. We received Fracture and watched it...I'm wondering now if we have the original ending one or not. Only because we also got 1408 once before and found out later it was the alternative ending.

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